The growing Gig Buddies community and a sustainable funding model in Australia

The growing Gig Buddies community and a sustainable funding model in Australia

New ways of funding the project in Australia and developing the model for older people in Bradford

We’ve often said that when we started Gig Buddies, the idea was to run a project to connect isolated people with learning disabilities in Brighton and Hove. We soon spread to work across Sussex, but it was a chance conversation at a conference with Carol Smail, the CEO of ACL Disability Services in Sydney, Australia, that made us see the potential there was for sharing our work so other organisations could replicate it and more people with learning disabilities could benefit from it.

Two buddies wearing stewards hi-vis jackets
(Christian and Jo, marking 10 years of their buddying friendship)

That meeting with Carol was over nine years ago, and now Sydney is celebrating their 8th birthday as a project. Our project is now ten years old. Currently, there are over 20 different Gig Buddies projects in seven countries; the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

More than that, though, there are now over 1000 people with learning disabilities involved across all the projects, something we would never have dreamed of back in those early days of starting the project back in 2013.

Funding Gig Buddies

We often get asked how Gig Buddies gets funded in different places. The answer is always “in a variety of different ways.”

In some places, the local authority has commissioned Gig Buddies to get local organisations to bid to run. Other local authorities contribute some funding, and local and national grants and trusts make up the shortfall.

Australia and the NDIS – an alternative funding model

In Australia, social care is funded differently from the UK, as in 2013; they introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which is essentially a system where people get direct payments to buy their own support.

The team in Sydney saw this as an opportunity to disrupt the status quo and enable people with learning disabilities to contribute a few hours of their NDIS money each month to pay towards the administration of running Gig Buddies in Sydney. They still have volunteers, a core element of what makes Gig Buddies special. The result has been transformational, with them supporting many hundreds of people across their vast city.

We have seen imitation projects pop up, too, one recently where people were paying for their ‘buddy’ to go out with them. Paying for your buddy misses the point about what it’s about. Of course, the gigs and events are great fun, but that’s not the primary purpose of our work.

It’s about having people in your life who aren’t paid to be there. Someone who cares about spending time with you. Money literally can’t buy that!

“I like going places with Jan. We go to the movies, bowling, and we go out for dinner. It’s nice to have someone to go out with.”

Neilo Ferreira.

See below for more about Neilo’s story and Gig Buddies’ significant involvement in helping to change his life.

Gig Buddies for older people

We were also recently excited to start working with AgeUK in Bradford to enable them to set up a version of Gig Buddies for older people. The council commissioned the project as it has transformed the lives of people with learning disabilities in the city and now wants to expand it to reach more people.

ACL Disability Services and Bradford City Council have taken our work and shaped it in ways we could only have dreamed of.

I’ve always said the Gig Buddies model could work for any marginalised group. It’s not about ‘gigs’. It’s about whatever ‘your gig’ is. It’s about creating connections between people who may not have much in common in other ways but share a common interest, such as music, sport, dancing, nature, cuisine, history, culture, or anything.

Finding that connection enables us to support people to use that to create an ongoing friendship. And some of our buddies in Sussex are now celebrating ten years together!

“I was saying to Neilo the other day, I feel like I’ve known you for years. He said the same thing. We just find it really easy to talk to each other and we enjoy each other’s company,”

Jan Ireland, Neilo’s buddy.

Of course, the benefits aren’t just for the isolated and lonely person; they’re also enjoyed by the volunteer buddy making a new friend while doing things they’d be enjoying anyway. They’re just sharing their time with someone.

“I’m on my own, and volunteering to support Neilo socially has helped me to widen my own social circles. It’s helped us both tremendously.”

Jan Ireland, Neilo’s buddy

Whilst this all sounds like a lot of fun, it addresses something profound: the loneliness pandemic, which we have in the UK. The good news is that this is a pandemic that we all have the power to do something about stopping.

Neilo’s story

Here’s the full article published by the NDIS in Australia telling Neilo’s story and Gig Buddies’s impact on his life.

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